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Last Updated: Monday, 1 December, 2003, 17:48 GMT
TV chef battles Ethiopian hunger
By Damian Zane
BBC, Addis Ababa

Ethiopia is probably the last place you would expect there to be a celebrity chef.

Demeke Girma
Demeke says reliance on traditional food makes Ethiopia vulnerable to drought
But a land sadly best-known for its food shortages now has its very own television cook, who thinks that the lack of diversity in Ethiopia's cuisine is a big factor in the food supply problems.

Demeke Girma, a chef, teacher and restaurant owner, is trying to introduce new dishes to the masses.

The 31-year-old got his training at Ethiopia's top hotel - the Sheraton. But now he is in charge of his own kitchen, from where every Sunday morning he tells the nation how to cook.

After a funky theme tune, Demeke goes through every stage of cooking dishes such as Spaghetti Carbonara or Russian salad, that are unfamiliar to most Ethiopians.

Demeke strongly believes that his countrymen should start eating something else apart from stews and the traditional flat bread: injera.

"The problem is everyone is eating injera, so the scarcity starts there. But if we eat vegetables, salads and soups, I don't think there would be such a scarcity of food," he says.

'Nutritional'

Aside from teaching the nation, Demeke runs cookery classes - he currently has about 200 students.

The cooking style taught is strictly European.

Salad
Demeke wants Ethiopians to eat more salad
There is much that is unique to Ethiopian cooking which you might think is worth preserving but Demeke denies that he is turning his back on his culture.

"I don't hate Ethiopian cuisine," he said.

"The problem is the sauces are cooked for a long time, so they don't have any nutritional value and it's almost the same throughout the year."

By adding variety, Demeke hopes farmers will start growing different things - avoiding the soil problems that result from cultivating the same thing on the same land year in year out.

End of hunger?

In his restaurant kitchen, Demeke's students are busy chopping, frying, whisking and grating.

Evidence that at least for this small group, Ethiopia's TV chef has provided inspiration. For the country at large though, things may take a little longer.

Demeke Girma with some of his students
He has some 200 students has a challenge to change the national diet
Not everyone has a television or the money to start experimenting with food.

Demeke knows it's just the beginning, but he's positive about the future.

"I have a big vision for Ethiopia," he says.

"After this [year's] hunger problem, I believe there will be no hunger in Ethiopia. We are already changing now."

Demeke's dream of getting Ethiopians to eat something different, may not on its own save the country, but at least he's not giving up in the face of the scale of the problem.


You sent you comments on this article:

The lack of diversity in Ethiopia's dishes is a big factor in our food supply problems. Demeke's idea could reduce part of this problem.
Mekdim, Ethiopia

Demeke's cooking ability has nothing to do with food scarcity in Ethiopia. The food problem, for that matter all problems in Ethiopia, lays on the hands of our so called leaders.
Per, Norway

Diversity is a solution for famine. You cannot grow Teffe (for making injera) by irrigation or anywhere you like. It is very sensitive to climatic changes, altitude, and the PH of the soil. The nutritional value is low except the high Iron content. Any family can grow vegitables and potatoes in the back yard.

Please all Ethiopians let us change our dietery habit. It is not about culture. It is about being healthy and making a change to a better future.

Most family can grow vegetables in their back yard and they can reduce their expenses and increases their income by selling them. Your idea, Demeke, is one of the solution for poverty and starvation. Keep it up. Let us do something that can change the lives of our people insteady of critising people who are trying their best with good intentions.
Abraham Teferi, England

Blaming the current hunger crisis in Ethiopia on lack of food diversification is Ludicrous. Not all Ethiopian eat Injera and Stew. It┐s a land of various types of food. The problem squarely lies on Government policies, environment conditions, and farmers┐ lack of crop circulation and training.
Selam Fisum, USA

Demeke advises Ethiopians "should start eating something else apart from stews and the traditional flat bread,injera'. He suggests we should eat vegetables, salads and soups. Well that is a very creative menu. The problem is, we can't afford the price attached to these items. His advise is probably good to the rich people, the likes who crowd his burger joint in downtown Addis Ababa. By the way he reminds me of the French Queen Anne.
Berhanu M., Ethiopia

How can you possibly call home grown tomatoes and lettuce expensive? Having a variety of food is great for the peoples nutrition and we just have to change the mentality that "western" food is bad food. We are not asking you to give up injera entirely... just vary your daily cusine. It will not be make you any less Ethiopian/traditional.
Amondi, Kenya

We have in Ethiopia what is called the paradoxical "green famine", where we have hunger and green land. There is not a culture of eating many easily affordable foodstuffs. There are many things we do not eat while we Ethiopians are in dire need of food.

Demeke is a creative person to make us reflect on our own constructed notion of food and food habits. Let us give a thought to his contribution!
Zerihun, Ethiopia

Ethiopia's problems are too interwoven to be tackled from a kitchen's viewpoint.
Efrem, USA

I think this is a superb initiative. We Ethiopians really need to diversify our dishes. In most part of Ethiopia people don┐t eat anything other than Injera unless they have no choice. Most of the healthier and nutritional dishes are actually much less expensive than injera.
Wubeshet Mehari, U.S.A

It is not surprising to see us suffer from chronic food shortages when one looks at how limited in diversity our diet is. Having lived in Japan, I (alongside with other compatriots) was surprised to learn that many green vegetables that we throw away at home (or give to our cattle ironically) were part of the Japanese daily diet.

We are talking about a society that doesn┐t eat pork for religious purposes. In fact, we don┐t even eat fish unless it is the Christian fasting season. How do you think China supports over a billion people? They eat almost anything that moves.

We may not be able to do that in the foreseeable future for entrenched cultural and religious reasons. But at least we can try on the vegetables that have been domesticated in other countries. As for the Carbonnara and the Russian Salad, that is just for the rich.
Birknesh Agere, Australia

Ethiopia's hunger problem is not directly conected to eating injera. When we talk about hunger it is the poverty we refer, not that of the lack of diversity in Ethiopia's cuisine. I say to Demeke that please save your cookery classes of eating Spaghetti Carbonara or Russian salad to those who can afford it and leave our old traditional flat bread alone.
Abush, Ethiopia

The problem with us Africans is we criticise each other. Stop it! Demeke is doing a fabulous job.
Wanjiru Kariuki, Kenya

If Ethiopians are unable to afford the cheapest traditional stews and the traditional flat bread, injera, how can they afford a variety of expensive foods.
Hussein, Somalia

A hungry person does not have the privilege to choose from a variety of dishes but a desire to eat.

Among the reasons for food shortages in Ethiopia include bad governance, politically driven agricultural and land policy and underdeveloped infrastucture. Demeke's campaign is good by its own, but his audiences are those who already knew about "Russian Salad" by watching the celebrity chef programme on the satellite television network.


Mentesnot Mengesha, UK

I think that those who are criticising Demeke are forgetting something. There is no one single solution to coming out of recurrent hunger. So we need to let everyone of those who propose something have their own way as long as they don┐t block others. Maybe Demeke┐s programmes are not for the 50% of the population which live below poverty line or even less the 10% who are struggling between life and death. But a simple mathematics can show us that if those who can change our eating habits then there will be more of the basics for those who are less privileged.
Dereje, Ethoipia




SEE ALSO:
Ethiopia race tackles hunger
07 Sep 03  |  Africa
Timeline: Ethiopia
29 Nov 03  |  Country profiles
Country profile: Ethiopia
10 Oct 03  |  Country profiles


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